Local Music
Soul Man

Cocktail Conversation: Caleb Burhans

05kozi04_650 (photo by Evan Sung for the NY Times)

For anyone that's been living under a rock for the past week, Caleb Burhans - the violinist, composer, singer and overall man-about-town - was given an extensive profile by Allan Kozinn in last weekend's Times, focusing on his multi-faceted musicianship.I've known Caleb for awhile now - and have written about him previously - but I thought it'd be a good idea to catch up in the back garden of Loreley last week, where Oktoberfest was in full swing. Once again, I was without my digital voice recorder, and jotting down Caleb's rapid-fire quotes turned out to be quite a challenge. Especially after a couple of these. Here's what I remember:

On the Times Profile:
"It's been awesome. I've gotten, like, 180 emails from all kinds of people. One guy from California said he wanted me to write the score for a musical he'd written the libretto to. I said: 'Sure.' The next day, it arrived on my doorstep in a FedEx. That kind of freaked me out a bit."

On Deciding to Become a Musician: "I moved around a lot as a kid, but mostly grew up in Janesville, Wisconsin. That's where I was first allowed to play violin: they didn't teach violin in Texas. My first music teacher, Thelma Wilcox, played jazz piano and was a conductor. She also encouraged me to join the Trinity Church Janesville Choir when I was ten, which is how I ended up singing countertenor. She's amazing: I'm still in touch with her."

On Musical Influences: "Sometimes, I feel like I get too comfortable playing just one type of music. I'm influenced by everything I hear. I try to take notes from everything."

On Seeing Shows: "I really don't get to see all that much during the season. I can't tell you how many shows I've missed because I always have choir practice on Thursday nights."

On Being Married: "Martha and I have known each other since we were 13. We went to Eastman together, then came to New York five years ago. We told our parents very early on that we couldn't even think about having kids till we're 30."

On Performing: "Someone once told me that the more disdain you have for your audience, the better you play. It's mostly about overcoming your fears."

On Chamber Music: "I actually prefer to play second violin. There's much more color and voice than when you're playing first violin."

On Disco: I only get to play with Escort a couple of times a year, but I love it. It's like performing period music, from the 70's. Those string sections were all made up of orchestra players, playing on the side. Those guys were dope."

On Attire: "I try to be the same person at all the different venues I play, whether it's Carnegie Hall or Southpaw. I do tend to dress up for certain occasions, but I still need to be myself."

On Performing Technique: "I was working with a pianist who was playing all the notes correctly. But, she didn't understand that it's not just about pressing the keys. That's just the starting point."

On Being a Young Composer: "We definitely like to hang out and have fun. But, when we're serious, we work really fucking hard. I mean, like a drillbit. I guess that's part of being American?"

On Hearing Others Perform His Music: "Nico has a core group of players he works with, because he knows they'll give him the exact sound he wants. I'd like to have the same performers play my stuff all the time, but it's hard to coordinate. I actually write a lot of solo pieces that I'm able to identify with a specific person."

On Taking Time Off: "I've never been anywhere just for vacation. The closest I've come to having a real vacation in the past four years was when Martha and I spent time with Grey and his girlfriend in Santa Barbara. But, even then, the whole reason for us being there was because I was performing at the Ojai Festival."

On Orchestras: "I never really wanted to play in an orchestra, but I auditioned for the Rochester Philharmonic because they made everyone at Eastman audition. I didn't expect to get in, but they called me the next day and said I was hired (as a violist.) During the first rehearsal, I was trying really hard not to move around the way I usually do when I'm playing solo or chamber music. Afterward, the general manager came up to me and actually said: 'Excuse me, but can you please not move around so much while you're playing?' I quit not long after that."

On Classical Music: "Classical music is awesome. It's incredibly heavy and intense."

On Christmas Music: "G Flat Major is the Christmas Key. Don't ask me why."